Leaving Bryce Canyon was bittersweet. We knew we only had one of the Mighty Five National Parks remaining, so we were sad to have the adventure go by so quickly. However, we were so excited to head to Zion. Colin had visited during his time in Arizona but wasn’t able to hike or explore for a long period of time. He was excited to get back and explore, and I was very excited to visit for the first time.
We stopped at Cedar Breaks National Monument on the way from Bryce to Zion. Cedar Breaks has a very similar landscape to Bryce Canyon, however, it is at a higher elevation. Once we got out of our car to go to the visitor center, we could feel the difference.
The Historic Visitor Center At Cedar Breaks NM
In the visitor center, we were able to chat with a ranger and learn about the differences between Cedar Breaks National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park. While there are hoodoos and similar structures throughout both parks, the difference in elevation creates differences in the weathering process.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
We spent a few minutes in the visitor center and then walked to the viewing area around the corner. I was very excited to see the Chessman Canyon Fire burning from the viewing area. This was a natural fire started from lightning on September 3rd. We were visiting the area on October 8th, so I was really geeked to experience the natural flow of a fire through the wilderness.
Natural fires create a much-needed cycle in the wild. While it may seem crazy for something so destructive to be allowed to keep burning, a managed fire is a great thing for the entire ecosystem. If an area goes too long without a natural fire, dense trees will continue to grow and grow. This will create an environment below with not enough sunlight for plants (and therefore the animals that rely on these plants, and the animals that rely on these animals, who rely on the plants) to grow. New growth after a fire will create new opportunities for food and wildlife. Additionally, the growth after a fire will mean new homes for changing wildlife in the area. It is essential for diversity and growth in areas, where dense trees can overcome all other species of plants. SO COOL. I loved being able to see the fire and still think it is beyond crazy how long a fire can burn for.
You Can Faintly See The Smoke In The Center Of This Photo In Trees
Now sadly, fires that get out of hand can be destructive and devastating to the entire ecosystem. Human-caused fires can (and often are) be incredibly dangerous. So, while fires can be incredibly useful in certain environments, once fires are unmanageable, it becomes a serious threat.
We didn’t do any long hikes at Cedar Breaks because we wanted to continue on to Kolob Canyons at Zion.
Kolob Canyons At Zion
Kolob Canyons is 40 miles north of Zion Canyon and has a visitor center that must be entered to show your park pass (or pay to enter). Unfortunately, our schedule did not allocate time for hikes at this canyon, however the five-mile scenic drive is beautiful!
If time and travel routes allow, we definitely recommend driving through. There are plenty of pull off spots to snap some great pictures and there are much fewer visitors at this side of the park.
After leaving the Kolob area, Colin had a surprise visit planned to Grafton. If you have never heard of Grafton before, you can check out the story of the town here. In summary, Grafton became inhabited and then turned into a ghost town shortly after. There are signs around the town stating strange deaths that occurred and eventually the difficulty of living there due to weather and location. You can visit for free and experience the rather eerie feeling walking through the deserted homes.
The Drive To Grafton
An Abandoned Grafton Home
We decided to wake up early for hiking, since we only had one full day to experience the park. We set our alarms for 6:00am and experienced the sunrise over the park sign. Zion is a highly visited park, so parking is provided near a shuttle station and you shuttle to the different stops. This helps eliminate a traffic nightmare and is also much better for the environment. To align with the bus schedule, you can go here. You may also want to visit the Zion National Park website to check for any trails that are closed due to rock fall. While we were there, two of the stops were not on the bus schedule due to the paths being closed.
An Early Morning At Zion!
For our first hike, we wanted to get the hardest planned hike completed first, to ensure we had time in our schedule to complete everything else that we wanted. An added benefit in doing the hardest hike first, is that it ensures that you won’t be too tired to complete hikes later on. Angels Landing is one of the most popular hiking destinations in all of the parks’ system. We are no exception to the list of people who want to TRY to conquer this hike while visiting Zion.
A Beautiful Morning Hike!
Angels Landing is a strenuous 5.4 mile trail. Toward the end of the “easy” portion of the hike, there is a section called Walter’s Wiggles. This is a set of 20 switchbacks named after the parks first superintendent.
Not The Worst Way To Start The Day
Angels Landing requires the use of chains to reach the top. Before reaching the chains however, there is a great resting point named Scouts Lookout. This break in the action is 2.1 miles from the trailhead. Unfortunately, this is where we, as with most others, stopped during our hike. We tried the chains for one small portion and I realized I may be too clumsy to participate in the complete Angels Landing experience. While I was disappointed, I also knew I didn’t want to push my limits (this time at least). As I have mentioned before, I trip, stumble and fall often. Plus, after the hike up to Scouts Lookout, I was pretty tired.
We loved the view from the lookout and enjoyed talking to passing hikers, either coming back from the summit, or about to head in that direction. There were MANY hikers who remained near Scouts Lookout while their family and friends went to the top - no judgement zone.
We definitely recommend Angels Landing to everyone who visits. Push yourself, but be safe and know your limits. Here are some quick tips and tricks from our experience.
1. Start early. We were on the first shuttle out to the trails and it was great to not have a huge crowd of people. Again, this is one of the most popular trails and it will get crowded in a hurry. During the busier times, rangers will limit trail activity.
2. Check the weather and wear appropriate clothing. I know, I know DUH right? But we thought we could tough out the morning weather and avoid having to carry coats later on. This was definitely a mistake as it was probably only 40 degrees in shorts and a t-shirt, and our initial ascent was brutal being so cold. (But worth it on the way back down).
3. Take your time and know your limits. We found spots for breaks to drink water and even eat a quick snack. It is a marathon, not a race, and the views along the entire hike are beautiful!
4. There is a bathroom at Scouts Lookout. Though not super clean and pretty smelly, it was nice to have. Still, make sure you go before you start.
5. Even if you don’t think you can make it to the top, still complete as much of the hike as possible. As I mentioned, the views throughout the entire hike are beautiful and Scouts Landing has almost as great of views as Angels Landing does (just from a lower elevation). Plus, we sat on flat rocks and ate a snack just enjoying the sun and view.
6. If there was ever a hike to bring a hiking stick to, this is this one. The way down is steep and correct hiking gear is REALLY helpful. We wore tennis shoes and had knee pain for a few days after.
7. If you are having worries or want to see more of what the 0.5 mile portion between Scouts Lookout and the Angels Landing summit will be like, you can check out videos online.
8. Have fun and be safe!
Some More Switchbacks
Views For Days
The Small Portions Of Chains That We Attempted
Once we descended back to flat ground, we rode the shuttle to Riverside Walk. This trail is 2.2-miles round trip; however, we didn’t complete the full hike as it was pretty busy and has similar views throughout. We hiked along the river for a half mile, took pictures, and then came back to the shuttle to head to Zion Lodge for lunch.
A Deer Along The Virgin River
A pitfall of not having your own transportation, is not having the ability to store food in your car. However, Zion Lodge, located within the park, offers various food options. The café has burgers, hotdogs and fries. There is also a fancier restaurant you could eat at if you are not wanting fast food items. Both of these food options can be found online here. There are some seasonal hours and times, so be sure to look while planning.
Lunch With A View
We definitely didn’t have too many complaints about our view during lunch. The lines at the café can be very long, however it moved really quickly since there aren’t a ton of options to choose from. There is seating outside, but due to the large amount of visitors, we opted to sit in the grass. The lodge also has water filling stations, bathrooms and a gift shop/lounge area.
After eating, we walked across the street to the Lower Emerald Pool Trail. This was an easy hike with much needed shaded portions! We enjoyed the more relaxed walk after having lunch and I loved the views along the way. There is a waterfall which you can walk behind and see the canyon in the background. While there was not large amounts of water falling, the mist felt great!
A Little Bit Of A Waterfall
A Nice Cool-Down
After this hike, we hopped back on the shuttle and went back to the visitor center. Here we completed our final stamp from our trip and made our way back to the car. Before leaving the park, we wanted to drive through the Zion - Mt. Carmel Tunnel and see the other side of the park. While the drive is cool, if time doesn’t allow for this portion, you aren’t missing too much!
Entering The Tunnel
Zion National Park is magical and powerful. We enjoyed every minute, every hike and every photograph. Visiting in October was amazing because the weather was warm and sunny, but not overwhelming. The crowds weren’t too bad, whereas Colin said during the Fourth of July weekend, it was extremely busy. If you don’t have time to spend the entire day in Zion, a drive through while viewing the canyons is still much needed. The Mt. Carmel Tunnel provides direct access to both Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon National Parks. Our stay in Zion was complete with the most amazing Airbnb find! The location was great, and the room was spotless! The small touches for our stay made us so happy. There was an Apple TV in each room, shampoo and conditioner in the bathroom, as well as other supplies if you forgot something. The fridge and kitchenette was stocked with great snacks and she even REFILLED them each morning. We HIGHLY recommend this place of lodging.
An Excellent Airbnb!
Zion National Park
Our entire Mighty Five trip was beyond amazing. I am finishing writing these guides months later and I can’t help but dream about being back! It was my favorite vacation and hiking experience so far. Each day was so full of adventure and we didn’t want to come home.
To end our trip, we drove our rental car to Las Vegas the day after Zion. On the way, we stopped at Valley of Fire State Park to get final views of the beautiful red rock. We spent the night gambling and experiencing Fremont Street, before taking off the next morning. This trip was a once in a lifetime experience and we are so grateful to have experienced the wonders of the Mighty Five.